As the white flag waves on 2022, we asked RACER.com’s writers to reflect on the story from this year that resonated the most with them, based on any criteria they saw fit. Today, NASCAR writer Kelly Crandall reflects on how the paddock processed the sudden death of Coy Gibbs during the championship weekend in Phoenix.
In a sport that competes 38 times a year with one weekend off, there is plenty to digest at the end of December. And in a series that rolled out a new car and puts three different divisions on track, there are plenty of headlines and personalities to revel in.
But they just become moments in time. Small moments of chasing the next story, telling a great story, watching race cars and frankly, just trying to keep on top of the chaos. It’s a never-ending, much-welcomed cycle. Given all of that, having a moment or a story that lasts beyond the next batch of excitement can be rare.
Coy Gibbs is not one of those moments.
Gibbs died in his sleep just hours after his son Ty Gibbs (pictured above with his father and mother, Heather) won the Xfinity Series championship November 5 at Phoenix Raceway. It was unexpected and shocking. Less than 10 hours after celebrating with his son and sitting in front of the media to discuss Ty’s triumph, Gibbs was gone. How cruel for the Gibbs family, and for those closest to them.
Seven days earlier, there was the low of Martinsville Speedway when Ty Gibbs wrecked teammate Brandon Jones, becoming the hot topic of conversation leading into Phoenix. Then came the ultimate high of rising to the occasion with a career milestone. It is cliche but undoubtedly true that life can be unfair.
It was hard to just move on from the news that Sunday, even though there was a Cup Series championship race to cover. The day had started with such promise, and excitement at not only reaching the end of a long season but crowning a champion from four unique and compelling contenders.
It was hard to switch gears from reporting – and feeling – the pain of the loss to covering a championship race.
Christopher Bell said it best. Not only a Gibbs driver but one of the four championship contenders, Bell’s comments after the race were poignant:
“You wake up first thing this morning and are super excited and thrilled with life and where you’re at, and the opportunity given to you. To receive news like that a couple of hours before you get in the car is extremely tough. It just really kind of puts it in perspective that what we’re doing here is not the big picture, for sure.”
It was easy to feel the atmosphere at the track change in that exact way. What started as an exciting and energetic race morning became very serious and somber as the news began to spread. Attention shifted from pre-race festivities to preparing coverage and awaiting confirmation, which came shortly before the green flag.
The show must go on and racing has done that many times before following a loss. It didn’t make the day any easier. It just became one that everyone needed to get through; only dealing with the emotions after the job was done.
The loss of Gibbs was the trigger that opened a floodgate. After such a long year, the already impending emotional breakdown was sped up. There was no denying a feeling of being emotionally spent and, honestly, just wanting to go home.
Gibbs was a friendly face in the garage, and an impactful piece of the Joe Gibbs Racing organization – where he served as vice chairman and chief operating officer – and its legacy. His death was stunning and tough, and even with a job to do, it was not an easy moment to move on from.